Paul Scholes column: Louis van Gaal looks a scary man. Good. He has already restored the fear factor at Manchester United

In his first exclusive column for The Independent, Scholes writes about how the 'mad genius' Van Gaal will benefit United in the long term - but doubts they will be Premier League contenders this season

At Old Trafford on Saturday lunchtime, I will take my place alongside the rest of the home support in the belief that my old club have a man in charge with the requisite status and strength of personality to be the manager of Manchester United.

Louis van Gaal has the respect of the players. He got it as soon as he arrived. This is a man who has managed some huge clubs: Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and he has just taken the Netherlands to third place in a World Cup finals. He is a man with presence. He looks a bit of a scary man. Good. Sir Alex Ferguson was a scary man too, at times, and it is possible to push players into performances. From what I’ve seen in pre-season he looks a bit mad. He’s a bit like a mad genius, he looks a bit crazy.

It is inevitable that when you talk about Van Gaal, you start to look back at last season and David Moyes. I don’t want to spend the next year criticising Moyes. For whatever reason, it did not work out for him. By United’s standards the season was a disaster. But there are some basic observations to be made about Van Gaal that have given him the ideal grounding at United.

With the greatest respect, it is a very different prospect going to United having managed Barcelona, Bayern and the Netherlands at a World Cup finals than it is going to United from Everton. Van Gaal has instantly got the respect of the squad. Players should perform whoever the manager is, but the reality is often very different. Last year, the fear factor was not there for the United players. It is now.

Video: Van Gaal on Manchester United

I played against Van Gaal’s Bayern Munich team when they beat United on away goals in the Champions League quarter-finals in 2010. I believe I first encountered him when I was part of an England team that lost to Van Gaal’s Dutch side at White Hart Lane in 2001. The first thing I noticed about his teams was quite striking: they seemed to have more men on the pitch than us.

It is the Dutch way, they create an extra man in midfield. With his 3-5-2 formation at United, Van Gaal is doing something similar. Watching United against Real Madrid this month I found myself asking, “How is it United seem to have so many men on the pitch?” It is easy to read too much into pre-season but the early signs have been positive. United beat Roma, Madrid and Liverpool in the United States. This time last year they were losing to the Singha All-Star XI.

For all the benefit I believe Van Gaal will bring to United in the long term, I find it hard to see them as Premier League title contenders this season. My instinct is that the title will be between Manchester City and Chelsea, with United, Liverpool and Arsenal in competition for the two remaining Champions League places.

Scholes lifts his final league title with United in 2013 Scholes lifts his final league title with United in 2013 The chief reason I see little prospect of United winning the title is that they have not signed enough players in this window. I accept that more than £60m has been committed to the signing of Luke Shaw, who is now unfortunately out for a month, and Ander Herrera. To my mind, United needed to buy a top-level midfielder, of which there were very few available this summer. Just two, in fact. And Cesc Fabregas and Toni Kroos have already made their moves.

Read more: Paul Scholes signs with The Independent
Scholes - In his own words
Scholes interview: 'I say it as it is'

Having said that, I like the way Van Gaal has set his stall out. He has said to the players: “This is it, 3-5-2. I am going to play you in the position that you’re best suited to. If you can’t play it, then tough.” He has played Wilfried Zaha, he has played Nani at centre-forward. Van Gaal is not playing with two wingers and players are being asked to adapt, like Ashley Young at left wing-back, where he has done well. If you don’t want to play the position he wants you in then it will be a case of “Off you pop”.

Glenn Hoddle played 3-5-2 when he was England manager. In fact, that was the last time in my England career when I knew game to game how the team was going to play. The 3-5-2 system is a good way of getting your two centre-forwards into the team. When you have two forwards of the quality of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie you have to find a way of playing them. 

Behind them United have Juan Mata and two holding midfield players. It is not something United or England players are used to doing. As a player, I never liked it. I was a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 man. A basic English player who enjoyed that system. But the United players seem to have really taken to it. You do play against a lot of teams with just one up front as well.

The most worrying thing is the injury records of the three centre-halves, Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. They do seem to pick up a lot of knocks. United have already tried, and failed, to buy Thomas Vermaelen. But if those three can stay fit, they are more than capable of doing the job.

On the new signings, I haven’t seen lots of Herrera before this summer. When United played Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League, he looked very good technically. He can run, no doubt about that. I am not sure if he has loads of goals in him. I hope he will prove me wrong. I am not sure he is a playmaker either. I think he is probably in the category of Shinji Kagawa or Mata, a No 10. I don’t see him as an out-and-out midfield player.


Shaw had a great season for Southampton. But United is different. He is at a massive club. He has to perform every week and the spotlight is on him. It is a lot of money for a left-back but that is the way the world has gone. His potential is fantastic. I would have liked him to have had Patrice Evra to guide him through. Evra is a top professional and a great lad to have in the dressing room, too. You could understand his point of view in leaving. He wanted to play football.

No Champions League football for a season at United is unthinkable, but it has happened and they must move on. I have no regrets about my old team not being in the Europa League. All that offers is an opportunity to give some minutes to the squad players. It is not a competition that excites me. As for last season, I try to think of it as a top horse having a bad race. Sometimes the only way to deal with it is to put a line through it and move on. Van Gaal has given United fans hope.

My World Cup point about Rooney was that it was mad to play him on the left 

I was not pleased with the way in which my comments about Wayne Rooney in my World Cup column for Paddy Power were projected over the summer. I played with Wayne for 10 years at United and I know what a good player he is and I am glad he has been made captain. The point I was trying to make was that I don’t think he should be played out wide for England.

Rooney and Scholes during Manchester United training Rooney and Scholes during Manchester United training In his younger days he could get away with it. He was younger, he was fresher, he was fitter. He could get up and down without a problem. It was still not his best position but he could do it. I feel he is at that stage in his career where, if he is playing in an attacking position, he has to be a centre-forward. People seem to think I was saying he was finished. I don’t speak to Wayne so I am just hoping he read the full article. As Wayne himself said over the summer, we don’t have each other’s phone numbers. To be quite honest, there’s hardly any people I speak to on the phone from the club.

I have been lucky to play with Wayne. What a player he has been for United and what a player he continues to be. The point I was trying to make was that he should not be played wide, and I was proved right by the Italy game. We go to  a World Cup with a centre-forward scoring goals and we play him left wing. In what other country does the centre-forward and best goalscorer play  on the left wing? None of them.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
i100(More than you think)
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit